Lucious The Lion

Lucious the Lion Cub Photo by Jennifer Slak

Lucious the Lion Cub
Photo by Jennifer Slak

When Lucious first came to us at 3 months of age, we knew he had some health problems. He had already had eye surgery to fix an issue with one of his eyelids. We often provide permanent homes for exotic non-releasable animals that are hard to place with other zoos and sanctuaries due to health or behavioral issues, so Lucious was a perfect fit for us.

However, as he started to mature, we noticed that he was less coordinated than he should be for his age. The amazing veterinarians we work with found he had an ear infection which we treated with antibiotics right away. Unfortunately, the problem persisted and one day we found Lucious unable to stand and very disoriented. We immediately drove him to one of our vets who thought perhaps he had a damaged neck vertebrae, which can sometimes happen with active young lions.

Lucious the Lion on his way to the University of Florida Veterinarian Dept.Early the next morning, our head trainers drove Lucious to specialists at the University of Florida in Gainesville (about two hours from our sanctuary). He has several tests including an MRI and specialized blood panels, and was seen by the heads of several veterinary departments. The final diagnosis came in as Hypovitaminosis, a genetic disorder that affects a small population of lions in captivity. In short, Hypovitaminosis is a vitamin A deficiency which results in enlarged bones in the head and necks of lions, which can but pressure on the brain affecting motor functions such as balance and coordination. You can see a brief medical explanation below and can read more about the condition by clicking here (

Hypovitamiosis in Lions
Neurologic dysfunction accompanied by malformation of both the skull and the cervical vertebrae has been previously described in lions kept in captivity worldwide, and this dysfunction and malformation were most often related to vitamin A deficiency. Diagnosis of the bone malformation and its effects on the neural tissue was until recently limited to postmortem examination, with characteristic thickening of the bones of the cranial vault, cerebellar herniation, compression of the foramen magnum, and enlargement of the lateral ventricles. For some mildly affected lion cubs with neurologic signs, improvement was reported with excessive vitamin A supplementation.

(excerpt from “Sub-occipital craniectomy in a lion (Panthera leo) with occipital bone malformation and hypovitaminosis A.” by Shamir MH1, Shilo Y, Fridman A, Chai O, Reifen R, and Miara L, Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, 2008 Sep;39(3):455-9.)

As soon as we had a definitive diagnosis, we put Lucious on a regimen where he receives vitamin A injections once a week and steroids and other medications to help with inflammation. Other lions who have been diagnosed with Hypovitaminosis have responded well to this treatment, but only time will tell. We won’t know the full extent of Lucious’ condition for some time yet, as he continues through puberty and grows to his full size. Our hope is that he will stabilize at this point and be able to have an active quality of life, but realize that he will most likely remain a special needs lion.

Lucious is a sweet and totally loveable lion. Due to all of the medical treatment he has received during the course of his young life, he sees many of our staff and volunteers as part of his pride. He has made friends with several of our other animals, including a pitbull named Jack. They have supervised playdates now and we hope that Lucious will be able to join Jack and another pitbull, Pretty Girl, to form their own permanent pit-lion pride. It is our deepest hope that Lucious will have a full and enjoyable life with us, despite his genetic condition. He has already touched the hearts of so many who have visited our sanctuary and has so much more love to offer.

Down the road, we anticipate Lucious will need further medical care and treatment, and we at The CARE Foundation are dedicated to do whatever we need to help Lucious have the best quality of life he can.

Lucious the Lion Cub Snarl

Lucious the Lion Cub Snarl